Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Talk dirty to me

Ha, made you look, right?

I love a good audiobook. What’s even better than a good audiobook? An audioplay. Better than an audioplay? [Yes, yes, there can be a superlative here.] Better than an audioplay is an audioplay based on a story by Neil Gaiman, played by a whole cast of gorgeous voices and narrated by Neil himself. That’s reason enough for me to not fiddle with the speed of my audioplayer, which I usually set to somewhere between 1.75 and 2.5.

The Sandman audioplay is based on the DC comics/graphic novels of the same title. I’m going so far as to say that I enjoyed the audioplay much more than the GNs, because the cast surrounding James McAvoy makes the story/stories really come to life for me.

I can’t say much more without either starting to go all CAPS, or gushing about details. Get yourself a copy of the original version – trust me, I dared to listen into the German version for a few minutes, just not the same feeling – and enjoy it. Each episode is worth your time, and, at the same time, you can pace yourself by at least trying to listen to not more than one episode at a time. Something I failed at spectacularly.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

June BuddyRead Reveal

This June we’ll be reading Brian Catling’s Hollow, published 01 June 2021.

Neither of us had this author or the book on the radar and so it’s a total surprise to us. Hence, we can’t tell you anything about what we are hoping to find inside. But, please don’t let it be a fantasy Western with gun slinging orcs.

The blurb hints at an epic odyssey of a group of mercenaries, protecting a divine oracle on it’s journey through a land raging with war between the living and the dead; giants, sirens, surreal paintings, bone marrow and the confessing of sins… A small part of me is wondering whether The Otherland‘s May(?) newsletter topic – fungi/mushrooms – might have played into the selection of this book.

Why’s there a pirate ship on the cover?

That’s more or less what I am taking from reading The Beholder by Anna Bright, published 19 June 2019.

This YA just shows me, again, that YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi should no longer make it onto my TBR. In other words, I had so many issues with this book, …

The main character, Selah, is the Seneschal-Elect of Potomac. That means she’ll be the leader of her people once her father dies. Her task is it, as the future leader, female but definitely NOT feminist, to find herself a husband. Since The One she fell for at home doesn’t want her, her stepmother is sending Selah to Europe to find her match. Fairy tale retellings ahead. Selah seems to see herself as Snow White, since her step-mother will certainly kill her father now that she has sent Selah out to never come back home one way or another. Either she’ll marry one of her suitors and then stay in Europe, or the Baba Yaga will eat(?) her; that irrational fear is based on a fairy tale and a nursery rhyme Selah keeps repeating.

Selah is the perfect pawn of her story; literally, plot happens to her not because of her. She’s naive and trusts people too easily. She wears her feelings on her sleeve, and her tongue, unwisely telling everyone and their grandmother what she thinks and feels. And she feels a lot, especially very fast for the members of her crew and the suitors she meets. Hello insta-love.

The story is supposedly set in something similar to the late 18th or early 19th century. Which means, I was annoyed at the anachronistic use of words like “barf”. I was further annoyed at how ignorant Selah was. For a YA heroine she had no backbone whatsoever. She ranted about one of her suitors being nine years older than her, but a nearly arranged marriage for diplomatic reasons was obviously alright to her; why then is the age difference important? And why, oh why, do we see a tiny sliver of feminism when her friend wants to choose her own husband, but Selah is unaware that her situation is the same?

The writing is nothing to write home about. There’s more tell than show throughout the book, and the retellings of fairy tales do not always work advantageously.

To come back to my initial question. Why is there a picture of a ship on the cover? Especially an artfully carved one that immediately reminded me of the TV series Black Sails, and hence of pirates. Not to mention the title of the book being the name of the ship, yet most of the story doesn’t even take place on the ship. I was definitely blindsided by the cover. Shame on me!

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Little Red Riding Hood Retelling

For The Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten is the first book in the Wilderwoods series and was published on 1st June 2021.

As some of you might know that I am struggling with fairy tale retellings, especially YA, it might come as a surprise that I picked this up. Well, I picked it because it was hailed as a dark fantasy fairy tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that is not Young Adult.

Does it deliver? A resounding no! On so many levels. Quite contrary to some YA fantasy stories, where the characters seem to be much more mature than their late teenage years, this book’s heroine is supposed to be 20 years old but behaves like a moody teenager. Also, the story is more of a Beauty and the Beast retelling than LRRH. The parallels are very limited the heroine’s name, Red(arys), who wears a red cloak when she enters the Wilderwood to encounter the wolf; who’s actually just a young man.

I was very underwhelmed by this book. The characters are rather flat. The plot is not fully developed, neither is the magic system; the author seems to have added to the magic system whenever she needed another twist to the story, and so at around 90% I still hadn’t quite grasped all of the aspects. Furthermore, the writing, although good, is convoluted with a lot of repetitions of certain actions (people were slouching in door frames, or rubbing their faces with their palms,…) – this might have been added out of the final version, though.

1/5 Harpy Eagles for at least trying to write a Little Red Riding Hood retelling that’s not YA.

All Hail the Squirrel Cat, the Finale

Crownbreaker is the final installment in Sebastien de Castell’s Spellslinger series. As mentioned in a previous post about it, this series stands out for not tending to the ‘special one’ trope. In this finale, war is brewing and our no-good mage Kellen has to step up to prevent it.

This book feels like the end of a TV series, as basically every major side character we encountered throughout the other books makes an appearance. It is fun to see them all again, especially his Argosi mentor Ferius. As the conflict is culminating in a single city, it makes sense that everyone of importance gathers there. It still feels a bit too convenient, though.

One of my favourite aspects of the series is Kellen’s friendsh…. business relationship with the squirrel cat Reichis. This cursing furball just has a place in my heart. And Reichis making a big entrance riding on the back of a hyena really made my day.

At over 500 pages, this is still a fast read. It clearly is a fairwell to all the characters and their development throught the series, as the plot feels like it’s taking a backseat. Considering the book on its own, it is really not mind blowing, but as a conclusion it is absolutely fitting.

I thought that after reading this book, I would finally be able to tick off a series as finished. That would be quite the accomplishment, as I’m very good at picking up book one but really bad at following up with the rest. But I just saw on Goodreads that there will be two full-length spinoffs centered on Kellen’s mentor Ferius. I really liked her character, so I’ll have to pick them up. The first one, Way of the Argosi, is out already, the second one is supposed to be released in October.

4/5 Magpies, as it is a decent wrap-up of the series

Black Water Sister

Our May Buddyread was Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, a contemporary fantasy novel set in Penang. Our main character Jessamyn probably has enough problems to struggle with when moving back to Malaysia. She has to find a job, and the distance is really taking a toll on the relationship with her girlfriend. Especially, since her parents know nothing about said girlfriend. On top of that, the voice in her head is not there due to stress, but because her dead grandmother has unfinished business.

Instead of taking time to sort out her life, Jessamyn is pulled into a conflict between a local gang boss and the deity her grandmother used to be a medium for – the titular Black Water Sister. The Sister is definitely not a quiet and benevolent one and quite a good match for the Malaysian gang members.

The first part of the book starts out quite slow, but once the first deity shows up things really get moving. Seeing a wider range of deities one may not be familiar with was really interesting. Jess’ grandmother is a really fun character, as she’s a snarky, ruthless old lady. You wouldn’t want her in your head, or to be on her bad side, yet her appearances were always very entertaining.

The resolution was slightly predictable, but still fitted the story’s development and made sense that way. The Malaysian setting was really refreshing and plays a very important part in the story. Overall, this was an entertaining and fast read.

4/5 Magpies

Robespierre might have been a magician?

Or, what if the French Revolution wasn’t just fueled by monetary inequality (I’m over-simplifying it), but also by the inequality of use of magical power?

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry, publishing day 23 June 2020.

In this alternate history set in the late 18th century, spanning the abolitionist movement and French Revolution, magic is hereditary, but only aristocrats are allowed to use it; unless it’s necromancy or stems from vampirism. Dark magic is forbidden and the Knights Templar police the use of magic rigorously.

At more than 500 pages, this novel is on the thicker side. What makes it hard to read are endless pages of dialogues or debates with no action. There was hardly any female character other than the family members of the protagonists, well-known figures of that time like Robespierre, Pitt, Wilberfur. Furthermore I felt that although the story starts with the kidnapping of a young African girl by slave traders, her story wasn’t very well represented – at least not until I DNF’d at about 50%.

The reading experience reminded me of Clarke’s Strange & Norrell [DNF’d], and history lectures at uni [finished that degree]. In other words, I found it interesting, but boring.

2/5 Harpies – purely for research into the historical facts well-done

Dead Detective and Purgatorial Politics

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox, publishing day 22 July 2021.

Joe Lazarus is on a stake-out. It’s raining. He’s hunkered down in a ditch, his expensive coat splattered with mud. Can it get any worse? Sure! He’s only minutes away from stumbling over his own corpse. Supernatural detective story where the dead DI has to find his own murderer? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. The detective story is intertwined with a story-line about politics in purgatory, and both are overshadowed by a dark entity that waits for your dead soul, which is in purgatory already, to cross a certain line of interference just to drag you off into the deepest pits of hell.

The detective part of the story and the interactions between Lazarus and his ‘dead soul’s guide to the afterlife’ Daisy-May kept me turning the pages until I reached about 50% -although it was pretty bog-standard and obvious to me who-dunnit. Obviously the mystery behind Lazarus’s death is just part of a bigger picture. But, because the underworld/afterlife part of the world-building wasn’t fully realised, it bogged down the whole story and left me with many questions that weren’t answered.

2.5 – so 3/5 Harpies

If a thief takes a long walk

…you might expect a long story. The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman, publishing day 25 May 2021.

Buehlman’s fantasy story about a thief in training is reminiscent of Sword and Sorcery stories. Kinch, our main character, is in debt with the thief guild that trained him. In order to continue his training to rise in rank, he has to pay off his debts. To do so the guild sets him off on a ‘quest’ to a certain northern city that was raided by giants. Needless to say, perils await Kinch on the way.

The strong start to the story loses momentum due to Kinch’s meanderings and explanations, which not only slow down the pacing, but make the whole narration feel like short stories being glued together with witty banter. I kept skipping pages because nothing relevant happened.

2.5 – so 3/5 Harpies

Palate Cleansers

Novellas and short stories are a great way to read something new and refreshing in between the chunksters. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have depth. Here are a few I’ve recently finished.

Hard Reboot by Django Wexler, publishing day 25 May 2021. Kas is on a fact-finding mission to old Earth. She’s drawn to the battle-bot fights for scholarly interest, which then leads to her being drawn in much deeper – literally and figuratively. A sci-fi novella about friendship, diplomacy, love, and well-choreographed robot-fights. It’s amazing to see how well Wexler manages this story in only 150 pages! Also, great cover! 4/5 Harpies

The Quest for the Holy Hummus by James Allison is the first book in The Chickpea Chronicles, publishing day 12 March 2021. When vegan dragon George goes to Peopleville to get his beloved hummus from Julian Pinkerton Smith’s organic food store, things go foreseeably wrong. It’s a short witty introduction (think Pratchett, Atkinson, Monty Python) to the two characters and the world the following six stories are set in. 3/5 Harpies

The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente, publishing day 20 July 2021. Tetley loves the world. Tetley tells the truth. Both these things get her in so much trouble. This is the story of a very optimistic girl that embraced its dystopian home, Garbagetown, and eventually ended up learning one secret too many and becoming a jaded outlaw. Still, she doesn’t give up hope. A very optimistic, yet also slightly disturbing novella that makes you think. My one point of criticism, it was sometimes hard to follow the timeline. 4/5 Harpies

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